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David Benac

Southeastern historian authors work on conflicts between Missouri 'Hill Folk' and industry

Contact: Rene Abadie


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     HAMMOND – A Southeastern Louisiana University historian has documented the late 19th century conflicts between a tenacious group of inhabitants in eastern Missouri and the lumber and mining company that invaded their isolated society.
     In a newly published book, “Conflict in the Ozarks: Hill Folk, Industrialists, and Government in Missouri’s Courtois Hills,” Southeastern Associate Professor of History David Benac tells the story of how tensions were ignited between the hill people of the Ozarks and the lumber company that began harvesting timber in the region in the late 1800s.
     “The inhabitants of the area subsisted almost entirely on the resources of these rich forests,” said Benac, who received his doctorate from the University of Missouri. “It was this same valuable timber that drew the Missouri Lumber and Mining Company to the area and sparked an enduring cultural and environmental struggle.”
     Using government documents, company records, local newspapers and oral histories as his resources, Benac examines the struggles between the residents and outsiders. He reviews more than 60 years of major social and economic changes for the hill folk and the forest itself. In less than a century, he said, the region – considered one of the most rugged in the Missouri Ozarks – saw the end of a near hunter-gatherer existence, the rise and fall of a profitable but devastating timber industry, and the beginning of a new era of conservation and environmental awareness.
     Lynn Morrow, historian with the Missouri State Archives, said Benac reviewed tedious details in the archives “to create a readable story of company towns, how they functioned, and what happened when the company left. Benac shows how the Scotch-Irish Ozarks culture accommodated modernity and then returned to traditional ways to survive a grueling economic depression.”
     The book was published by Truman State University Press and is available through and other retailers.

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